Exploring the Anza-Borrego Desert
From: Montezuma Junction (Hwys S-2 and S-22)
To: Christmas Circle, Borrego Springs
Via: Hwy S-22 (paved)
Prominent county post mile markers appear almost every half mile, so odometer mileage is not necessary.
Post Miles From: S-2/S-22 Junction
0.0 Montezuma Junction (Hwys S-2 and S-22, elev. 3,300').
This pleasant oak- and pine-shaded junction is just east of post mile marker 4.5 on Hwy S-2. Drive east on Hwy S-22, Montezuma Road, up Caada Verruga. Pine trees found along the highway were planted by the county highway department. Warner Pit #706 is operated by the county highway department as a source of"road metal" materials including boulders, cobbles, decomposed granite (DG), and sand. At the east end of the north side of the road cut just beyond, a gray fault-crush zone may be observed at the contact between reddish granitic and metamorphic bedrock in the Agua Caliente fault zone. The natural hot pools at Warner Springs several miles northwest are another feature of this fault zone.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses Barrel Springs at mile 1.0, in a shady grove of coast live oaks. Gray-leaved Great Basin sagebrush is the dominant shrub from here to the beginning of the plunge down into the desert.
2.5 Hoover Canyon entrance to Grapevine Canyon (dirt road, seasonal 4WD)
This is signed as"Vista Irrigation Dist." Tamarisk Grove is about 14 miles southeast down a 4WD road. Be sure to close gates behind you. See Area 4 for route description coming from Tamarisk northwest via Grapevine to Hoover Canyon.
2.8 Old Mine Road (dirt road)
A dirt road north (left) enters U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land about a mile north and works up Buck Canyon past some oak-shaded campsites. After a couple more miles, it dead-ends high on the mountain at a caved-in gold mine workings, Montezuma Mine. California Dept. of Mines and Geology (CDMG) Report #3 offers this on the Montezuma (Rice) Mine district:
Gold-bearing deposits in the district consist of northeast- trending quartz veins in metamorphic rocks that consist mainly of schist, and hybrid rocks composed of schist and quartz diorite. The deposits probably were prospected first in the 1890s by the Rice brothers of Warner Springs.
5.1 Ranchita store (elev. 3,985')
5.8 Wilson Ranch/W-W Ranch road , (opposite Oak Grove Lane.)
This double dirt road is another entrance south (right) into Grapevine Canyon. Camel Rock is about a mile south on the east side of the dirt road. Pass Chimney Rock Road on the north and enter.
6.3 Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
The summit (elev. 4,220') is marked with a painted cattle crossing and a warning of 8 percent down-grade. The clearing on the north side of the highway is the site of a 1950s ranger station. New state park signs here serve part of the purpose of the old stage visitors are advised of park features ahead and applicable regulations.
6.7 Jasper Trail south (right)
The Jasper Trail, originally an old cattle trail, was named for cattleman Ralph E. Jasper of Montezuma Valley.
9.3 Culp Valley campground (elev. 3,360') turnoff north (left)
The dirt road forks just past the entrance kiosk and interpretive panel. Left fork goes to Pena Spring. Right fork goes to the campground, which is the highest in elevation in the park. The high elevation makes for cooler camping (10 to 15 degrees F cooler than the floor of Borrego Valley) and later-flowering wildflowers. The old granitic mountains have weathered and exposed huge piles of boulders, which are visible all about the valley and campground.
10.4 Old Culp Valley Road
Hwy S-22 passes post mile marker 10.5 and descends through a rocky gorge into lower Culp Valley. A large turnout is on the north (left) at post mile.
11.3 Two trails depart from this turnout
A faint trail leads north a few hundred yards to an overlook into upper Dry Canyon. The trail to Big Spring departs from here to the south, crossing over a low divide into the middle fork of upper Tubb Canyon and over another low divide to the south fork of upper Tubb. (The Borrego Sun has recently dropped Tubb's second "b" for who knows what reason.)
Big Spring is about a mile from the highway in the latter fork and is heavily overgrown with willow, catclaw, mesquite, and cottonwood. The spring is one of the biggest water producers in the Anza-Borrego area, flowing on the shrub choked surface for one-quarter mile, then going underground. The spring is a main watering hole for bighorn sheep.
11.5 Culp Canyon turnout south (right, elev. 2,600')
Gear down and commence the steep descent down Montezuma Grade to the desert floor. Note how the weathered, bouldery landscape of Culp Valley transitions to walls of banded gneiss and schist, evidence of regional metamorphism from extreme heat and pressure at depth.
12.4 Crawford Overlook (elev. 2,300')
This overlook, named for park ranger Leo D. Crawford and memorialized in an ABDSP plaque as "A View Forever," offers magnificent vistas from this vantage point. Also visible from the overlook is an old trail across the canyon to the south, climbing up Tubb Canyon, that was used by Mrs. "Doc" Beaty in the 1920s to carry mail by foot or muleback from Borrego Valley to Culp Valley.
Two interpretive panels are located at the overlook, as well as a plaque saluting ABF land donors from 1967 1992 who collectively have added many thousands of acres of private in-holdings to the public park. It is not unusual to see bighorn sheep in this area. Keep an eye on the ridgelines to the west.
The highway continues to descend, past the last of the junipers into the Upper Sonoran life zone, and crosses Dry Canyon at mile 13.4. Mile 15 commences the dramatic transition from the gray granitics of the Mesozoic 100-million-year-old Peninsular batholith to the dark brown, mottled, and layered metasediments of a far-more-ancient Paleozoic seabed. The transition is complete by mile 15.5. (Don't confuse the desert varnish on granitics with the dark metasediments.)
The highway crosses Church Spur at post mile marker 16, curves to the left, and rolls out into Borrego Valley.
16.5 Hellhole Canyon trailhead (elev. 880')
A large parking lot on the west side of the highway, with interpretive signs, affords hiking and equestrian access to the popular Hellhole Canyon area (see Trip 1C). The highway curves east, passes post mile marker 17, and exits ABDSP.
17.5 Palm Canyon Drive/Hoberg Rd/Palm Canyon Resort & RV Park
Park headquarters is 0.2 mile west (left) with the visitor center just beyond. Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is 1.5 miles northwest. Downtown Borrego Springs is east (right) on Palm Canyon Drive, centered on Christmas Circle at mile 19.
Christmas Circle is the hub of the valley's highway network at the intersection of Palm Canyon Road (S-22) and Borrego Springs Road/Hwy S-3.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication